Turkey’s groundbreaking new Human Rights Action Plan is a response to the wants and needs of the Turkish public, the nation’s president said on Tuesday.
“The main determinants in drawing up Turkey's Human Rights Action Plan were the needs and demands of the people,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, unveiling the main 11 principles of the plan, set to be carried out over the course of two years.
Speaking at the Bestepe National Congress and Culture Center in the capital Ankara, Erdogan stressed that the plan is the fruit of broad-based consultation with the Turkish public.
“The action plan we will explain today is an example of our will for change and reform that continues and will continue,” he said, stressing that the necessary steps for the plan’s implementation will be taken with determination and that they will share an economic reform program with the nation next week.
“We will continue to stand by the citizens against all kinds of threats to the dignity, belief, values, and life of the people,” he added, saying that the new plan includes nine main goals, 50 targets, and 393 actions.
He listed the principles that form the state's irrevocable commitments to the nation as follows:
1. Human beings have natural rights which are inalienable, and the duty of the state is to protect and advance these rights.
2. Human dignity, as the most fundamental of all rights, is under the effective protection of the law.
3. Everyone is equal before the law without any discrimination based on language, religion, race, color, gender, political views, philosophical beliefs, sect or other reasons.
4. The overarching principle for administrative activities is to provide public services to all with integrity and in an equal and impartial manner.
5. Legislation includes clear, understandable and foreseeable rules without room for doubt and public authorities implement these rules with due regard for the principle of
6. There can be no interference with the freedom of contract which violates the principle of legal security and the protection of acquired rights.
7. The state protects and fosters the freedom of enterprise and the right to work on the basis of free-market rules based on competition and the social state principle.
8. Judicial and administrative procedures are conducted by protecting, safeguarding and enforcing the presumption of innocence, the right not to be labeled as a criminal and the principle of individual criminal liability.
9. No one may be deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or criticism by respecting the personality rights of others.
10. The rule of law prevails in all areas to guarantee rights and liberties as well as justice.
11. Anyone whose rights are alleged to have been violated shall have unfettered access to effective legal remedies; access to justice is the basis for respecting rights and
'Robust human rights protection system'
Further detailing the new plan, Erdogan said: "We also aim to enhance the effectiveness of the individual application system to the Constitutional Court." He underlined that the first goal in the action plan was to establish a "more robust human rights protection system" aiming to strengthen the rule of law based on human rights.
Erdogan went on to say that the government will regularly review legislation and practice and take the necessary measures. "In this respect, we will be focusing more on our efforts regarding the European Union, especially with respect to the visa liberalization dialogue."
Pointing out that the plan also seeks to support "victims of crime and vulnerable groups [...] to prevent further grievances," the president said it will involve "enhancing the effectiveness of the psychosocial support and information services provided to victims, especially children, women, the disabled and the elderly."
Under the plan, lawyers will be able to electronically file individual applications to the Constitutional Court, and administrative courts will be required to release full written decisions within 30 days of rulings, explained Erdogan.
To strengthen democratic participation, he added, the country will start comprehensive work to revise the political parties and electoral laws.
"We are taking steps to address the demands and expectations of our citizens in a more effective, swift and transparent manner because we believe that 'justice delayed is justice denied,'" Erdogan said, adding that a new Human Rights Compensation Commission would cover the financial burden of long trials without needing to apply to the Constitutional Court.
He also pledged that an independent Human Rights Monitoring Commission for Penal Institutions will be formed, including members from both bar associations and universities.
The second aim of the plan is "independence of the judiciary and strengthening the right to a fair trial."
Underlining that judgments should be "fair, but also delivered within a reasonable period of time," Erdogan announced "geographical guarantees" to judges and prosecutors, as well as an extension to "target times" for rulings in the justice system, to "expedite decisions and enhance the delivery of justice."
Referring to the target times, Erdogan said: "This practice has been in place for the last three years and we achieved our goals on average by 81% last year. We hope to increase this ratio to 100%."
The Action Plan strengthens the foreseeability and transparency of administrative actions and decisions even further, he said, adding that the time limit for responding to applications addressed to administrative bodies had been reduced from 60 days to 30.
He emphasized that increasing the quality of the judiciary in terms of service and professionalism were also "permanent goals," with seniority becoming a condition for senior positions in the judiciary, such as members of the Court of Cassation and Council of State.
It also introduces a system of assistant judges and prosecutors, while measures were also taken to reduce paper use, as execution offices are to be made "paperless," according to Erdogan.
Specialized courts will be established in areas such as finance, trade unions, zoning and expropriation, as well as for tax offenses and cybercrime, and a "court expert" staff will be established to support judges in courthouses.
Resolving investors' disputes
A new investment ombudsman's office will be set up to settle disputes between the administration and investors, he said.
Turkey will also provide open access to the decisions of the ombudsman and human rights and equality institutions while also protecting personal data privacy, he said.
He stressed that in order to boost the standards of freedom of expression and the press, Turkey is developing measures to facilitate journalists' professional activities.
"Judges, prosecutors and law enforcement will receive regular training to ensure that criticism and expressions of thought which are delivered by respecting the rights of others are not investigated," he said.
Turning to the rights of non-Muslims in Turkey, a state that has long embraced people of all faiths and backgrounds, Erdogan said: "Turkey is revising the Foundations Law on the establishment and election of board of directors of non-Muslim community associations."
Emphasizing that his government had put forward a strong will to fight discrimination and hate with the aim of advancing and maintaining pluralism based on the nation's common history, culture and civilization, he said: "We are preparing investigation guidelines on hate crimes and we aim to ensure a more robust collection of statistics and data by enhancing our capacity and training."
Moreover, public and private sector staff and students will be allowed to take leave for the religious holidays that they observe, regardless of their faith.
Under the new action plan, Turkish police will be able to take statements anytime – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and the country will end time limits for disciplinary probes of torture allegations, according to the president.
"Protecting the dignity and honor of an individual is the most important reason for the existence of the state," he said, adding that a "policy of zero tolerance to torture and ill treatment" without exception had been implemented.
President Erdogan noted that Turkey investigates allegations of torture "on the basis of very severe sanctions and is one of the few countries in the world that has lifted the statute of limitations in this regard."
He also emphasized that one of the most important elements of the struggle to ensure personal security is the fight against domestic violence and violence against women.
"Our efforts in this respect will continue with the support of all institutions, civil society, the media and society at large until the day when not a single woman is a victim of violence," he said.
Touching on the digital transformation in Turkey's prison system, he pointed out that in addition to video calls with prisoners and their relatives, modern technology would be used in transactions such as sending and receiving letters, petitioning and monitoring inmates' health.
He reiterated that one of the aims of the plan was "more effective protection of the right to property," with all legislation related to expropriation being reviewed.
As part of the push to strengthen social welfare and protect vulnerable groups, the country has focused on children's rights first, he added.
"We are doing our utmost to protect and support the physical and mental development of children by protecting them from digital risks, cyberbullying and addiction to the internet."
To protect the family privacy and in the best interests of the child, a new court architecture is being developed within family and juvenile courts and will be located on a separate campus, Erdogan said.
He also stressed that the government would continue to support and develop special policies for the disabled and elderly.
Erdogan said the ninth and final goal title of the action plan sought to achieve the "highest level of administrative and social awareness on human rights," as well as to ensure that activities are planned to increase human rights awareness across society, starting with the public.
"The ultimate aim of Turkey's action plan is a new civilian constitution," stressed Erdogan, returning to a theme he has touched on repeatedly this year.
"The new constitution will be everyone's constitution," he added, calling all political parties, institutions, non-governmental organizations, academia, and all other stakeholders in the country's future to participate in the drafting process.